Lettuce Now Turn Our Attention to Robert Simon’s Rooftop Garden

IMG_8240Dana Varinsky Ruhith Ahmed waters the plants.
IMG_8198Dana Varinsky Scott Stinger and Daniel Squadron add new plants.

At the official opening of Robert E. Simon Complex’s rooftop garden today, fifth-grader Julia Cannizzo pointed to two small lettuce plants and introduced them as Bob and Bruce Lee. “It’s really exciting to see the baby plants grow because they look so optimistic,” she said.

Borough President Scott Stringer, State Senator Daniel Squadron and Councilwoman Rosie Mendez – who all contributed funds to the four-year, million-dollar project – led today’s ribbon cutting, joining students and teachers of the Earth School, P.S. 64, and Tompkins Square Park School, which share the East Fifth Street building.

Ms. Mendez told The Local that the garden was a natural continuation of the neighborhood’s history. “Before community gardens were popular, this community, with all the devastation here, went into these lots and they cleared the debris and the rubble and made community gardens. So this feels like an extension of that vision.”’

IMG_8169Dana Varinsky City Councilwoman Rosie Mendez
with fourth-grade volunteer chef
Malik Langston Shah.

The garden is comprised of three long rows of shallow planter boxes on an elevated deck that spans two city blocks. In them, students are growing potatoes, basil, kale and a variety of other vegetables and flowers.

Mr. Stringer praised the project as a model to be followed throughout the city. “To think about our kids talking about sautéed kale and planting seeds — in my generation we only did that for a few weeks at sleep-away camp. Now we’re all urban farmers,” he said to the crowd.

IMG_8232Dana Varinsky Architect Michael Arad and son.

The garden’s architect, Michael Arad, is better known for his design of the September 11 memorial. His son was a student at Earth School and although his family has moved to Queens, Mr. Arad said he still planned to be involved with the project.

“I think of this green roof really as a teaching tool, like a blackboard or a computer,” he said, later adding that teachers of all grades will be able to use the space for different purposes. “You could draw the most complicated figure on a blackboard or you could teach the letters of the alphabet,” he said.

Science teacher Abbe Futterman, who originally came up with the idea to turn the roof into a farm, said the logistics of getting all of the schools’ 1,000 students involved in the garden were still being worked out. She said the garden should be a place where students can experiment and dig. “It’s a model for other schools,” she said. “One day we’ll look back and say, ‘Remember when we didn’t use our roofs?’”

IMG_8133Dana Varinsky Abbe Futterman

Asked what they hoped to grow, students suggested eggplant, corn, raspberries, pears and mangos. Taiyo Dejong, an Earth School student, seemed happy with the current offerings. “You can actually just go up there and start munching on everything you find,” he said.

Third grader Carlos Garcia noted the view of the Manhattan skyline. “You can see the whole city, even the bridge,” he said. His friend Daemon Bravo added, “We get dirty.”

IMG_8100Dana Varinsky